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Three-judge panel poised to conclude trial on redrawing of state’s voting boundaries

By Bill Felber

The effort by Manhattan officials to persuade three federal judges to leave the city and Riley County in the Second Congressional District when those judges draw new Congressional boundaries appeared to go smoothly Tuesday.

Frank Beer, a local businessman, did not take the stand but filed documents during the first morning of the two-day trial in a Kansas City federal court supporting the area’s assertion that it should not be move into the First Congressional District. Beer said afterward he felt that the area’s case had been well-made.

“We perceived (the decision) was headed in the right direction, so we just entered statements for the record,” he said.  “We’ve done all we could do.”

Arguments related to the Congressional map were heard Tuesday morning; the more heated portion of the case involved Tuesday afternoon’s testimony concerning the redrawing of boundaries for the state’s 40 Senate districts. That testimony included an appeal to the judges from Gov. Sam Brownback that they throw out all previous proposals and draw their own Senate maps. He said none of the maps legislators considered during the session was constitutional and urged the federal judges to seek a solution that is held to a higher standard. He said the new maps should uphold the principle of “one person, one vote” and have as little deviation as possible.

Beer said little testimony was introduced Tuesday in opposition to the Manhattan position that keeping the city and county in the Second District is in line with the “community of interest” yardstick by which districts are to be drawn. “The only real objection to that came from State Sen. Tim Owens, and even he said he didn’t really object to it,” Beer said. “He said it just didn’t work out.” Owens was the state senator in charge of drawing that Chamber’s proposals for new Congressional boundaries; his map moved Manhattan into the First District.

Beer noted that House Speaker Mike O’Neal, a long-time advocate for the Manhattan position, told the court that “from the beginning Manhattan and Fort Riley have been consistent in their desire to stay in the Second District.”

Testimony was expected to conclude Wednesday afternoon. Although it’s not clear when the judges might present the maps they draw, Beer and others involved with the Manhattan portion of the case noted that they had set aside next Monday for further arguments. That led to speculation that Monday might be reserved for revealing the judges’ maps and taking debate on them. The trial is less than two weeks before the state’s filing deadline for legislative offices.

“It’s just a guess,” Beer said.”

The three judges are tasked with drawing new boundaries for the state’s four Congressional, 40 Senate and 125 House districts, as well as 10 Board of Education districts that will be based on the new Senate districts. The Kansas Legislature was supposed to accomplish that task during its recently concluded session, but lawmakers stalled amid political infighting over the state Senate map.

Sen. Jeff King, an Independence Republican, said Brownback and Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler asked King and others to work with the governor’s staff to draw new maps. One of those maps is similar to one offered to three federal judges to consider. King said he worked with Peter Northcott, a staff member in Brownback’s office to develop a Senate map as an alternative to plans that failed to gain House support after clearing the Senate with 21 votes.

“Mr. Northcott had it on his computer using the Maptitude software,” King said, the same software program used by the Kansas Legislative Research Department.

King and Sen. Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican and chairman of the Senate’s redistricting committee, both said map drawing was an imperfect process but that they worked to build maps with a consensus.

“No matter what map we draw, there was going to be objections to something,” Owens said.

The three judges allowed 29 people to participate in the case, potentially call witnesses and submit redistricting proposals.

Robyn Renee Essex, a Republican precinct committee member from Olathe, filed the lawsuit earlier this month against Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the state’s chief elections official.

The Associated Press contirbuted to this article.

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